Ten thousand-plus migrants from Haiti have drawn recent headlines by congregating under a highway bridge in the border city of Del Rio, Texas. Their plight renewed interest on both sides of the immigration debate and led to confusion among U.S. authorities.
As a humanitarian gesture, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) placed portable toilets and provided drinking water for the migrants. Also provided were food, towels, and medical personnel, according to U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz as he spoke at a news conference in Del Rio on Sunday, September 19, 2021. Yet, migrants reported having to “escape” the makeshift compound to get food and water just to survive.
Initially, the publicity surrounding the gathering led to an announcement by CBP that six border crossings would be closed. To support this move, Texas Governor Greg Abbott dispatched the state’s own law enforcement and National Guard to assist. Hours later, the Biden Administration changed direction and refused to close the stations.
Meanwhile, the number of Haitians arriving at the under-bridge complex continued to grow.
After a May announcement by U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that Haitians living the in U.S. would receive Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, DHS seemingly changed direction and announced that they would begin flying planes full of Haitian migrants out of the country in a deportation measure. Beginning on Sunday, September 19, 2021, the flights and deportations were intended to “relieve the overflow at the South Texas border town of Del Rio and deter more Haitians from trying to come to the United States illegally.”
TPS for Haitians was declared by DHS to be necessary due to “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources.” The status provided Haitians living in the U.S. at the time with a work permit and a stay of deportation for those who would apply.
In the months since the announcement by Sec. Mayorkas, Haiti’s national condition has continued to spiral downward. On July 7, the country’s president, Jovenel Moise, who had warned that the country “a land of coups, conspiracy and murder” and who worked to changed this pattern, was assassinated. Just over a month later, the nation suffered a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that further devastated the country and the plight of its citizens.
Over a decade prior to this, in 2010, Haiti had experienced an earthquake that had also devastated the country. Other countries took in Haitians in addition to sending various forms of aid to the country to help it rebuild. Two of these countries were Brazil and Chile in South America. Those countries, in need of low-wage labor, welcomed the Haitian migrants and provided them with legal work opportunities.
Through the COVID pandemic, many of these employment opportunities dried up for the migrants in both Brazil and Chile. In Chile, the Haitians often faced racism highlighted by their Creole language not being able to be understood by the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nationals. Their plight in this new “home” was further degraded by the fact that a new Chilean government began implementing immigration reforms that prohibited many from lawfully seeking further employment and, in some cases, further residency there.
Seeing Sec. Mayorkas’ May announcement as an invitation, Haitians began to seek refuge by migrating to the United States.
The gathering of Haitians under the bridge in Del Rio was the result of travel over thousands of miles, via various transportation methods, and through several countries. In many cases, their travel takes the migrants across the continental border into Central America, then northward to the United States. Traversing such a distance, by foot and bus or any other mode of transport they could find, took literally months for some to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Those coming from South America also have to travel through some of the most dangerous places on the planet. Often regarded as the most dangerous place on Earth, a Panamanian jungle known as the Darién Gap has seen an increase in migrant traffic from 420 people in 2018 to 42,300 through August of this year.
Speaking in front of a regional meeting on Saturday, September 18, Panama’s Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes detailed that her country has seen an increase from around 800 migrants per month to over 20,000 recently. The other Central American countries – Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, and Guatemala – have reported similar increases. While the nationalities of the migrants are not reported, the increases coincide with events in Haiti, Brazil, and Chile.
Even while the Haitians increased their travels through these countries on their trek to the United States, these countries saw their own citizens leaving for the U.S., increasing the total number of migrants the farther north one looks.
Through July and August, CBP reported encountering over 200,000 migrants entering the United States illegally each month. These reports have indicated that U.S. President Joe Biden is to preside over “what is on track to be the worst border crisis in recorded history.”
According to his counterparts in Mexico and Central America, Pres. Biden has expanded the migrant crisis beyond just the U.S.-Mexico border throughout Central America.
Mexican authorities have been pressed to handle the influx of migrants, as well. In discussing the fact that Haitian migrants have been traveling through Mexico on their way to the United States, Roberto Velasco, chief officer for North America in Mexico’s Foreign Ministry, confirmed the migrants’ origins when he told the New York Times, “We are dealing with this really new type of migration which are these Haitians coming from mainly Brazil and Chile.”
Prior to deciding to gather within the United States, Haitians would congregate in the Mexican cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, across the border from McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, respectively. President Biden’s election and inauguration, and fueled by his campaign promises regarding immigration, led the Haitians to believe that families would be allowed entry. As a result, the movement began across the border, pushing the resources of CBP to their limits.
Despite claims by the Biden Administration that the border was not “open,” actions taken seemed to prove otherwise. While some families were returned to Mexico, many were allowed entry based on promises to appear at a CBP or U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility at some point in the future. This contradictory action led to further confusion among the migrants and developed a “let’s try it” attitude.
As the multitude of Haitian migrants along the border grew, and as the gathering in Del Rio became more publicized, CBP announced that they would begin deporting the Haitian migrants back to their countries of origin. Not wishing to be returned to Haiti, many migrants have fled the illegal camp in Del Rio back to Mexico.
This has caused Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to write to U.S. President Joe Biden requesting that U.S. authorities “ramp up” efforts on immigration. Piedras Negras, Mexico, Mayor Claudio Bres, through a news conference and in remarks made to Mexican news outlet Zolcalo also detailed efforts that the Mexican government was having to undertake due to the increase in migrants. Mexican authorities decided that foreign buses carrying migrants would be denied further northward travel if heading toward Piedras Negras or Acuna, another town in Mexico where migrants have been gathering. In a move mirroring the deportation efforts by U.S. officials, Mexico was also slated to begin flying migrants from their country.
While the migration of Haitians toward the U.S. border is not the only source of those seeking entry into the United States even through illegal means, it is a display of how migration to the U.S. affects the other countries of the Americas – South, Central, and North. The fact of the Biden Administration’s lax enforcement efforts, verging on the condonation and even complicity of such actions, seem to encourage continued and increased migration through these countries.
Officials in these countries, particularly the presidents of Mexico and Panama – the northern- and southern-most extents of Central America – have publicly placed blame on Pres. Biden and his Administration for the crisis seen throughout the Americas.
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